Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Book Review: The Finkler Question - Howard Jacobson

Synopsis - Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends.  Despite very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik.  Both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and together with Treslove they share a sweetly painful evening revisiting a time before they had loved and lost.  It is that very evening, when Treslove hesitates a moment he walks home, that he is attacked - and his whole sense of who and what he is slowly and ineluctably changes.

Review - A deep and philosophical book, not an easy read but it makes you think about the characters, as a good book should.  It was quite hard going and as I am not Jewish I had to delve a bit deeper to understand some of the terminology and sub text.

My interpretation is that Julian Treslove has always been in awe of his friend Sam Finkler, idolising him and also a little bit jealous.  Libor is a Czech Jew and much older than the two friends but in the threesome, Treslove is the outsider because he is not Jewish and he feels that he is missing something.  Both Libor and Sam are widowed, Libor happily married perhaps with one indiscretion but Sam is a long term philanderer.  His late wife Tyler, was a gentile but studied and converted for marriage, Sam's other women have been of the faith.  Julian cannot settle with women for any length of time, being far too flighty and sensitive, he seems to glide through life without a sense of purpose.  Whereas his two friends appear to him to have tales to tell, something to show.

After his attack, Julian is convinced that it was an attack against Jews.  Thinking he was mistaken for Sam or mistaken for a Jew.  At this time there are ongoing attacks against Jews for the Israeli attacks on Palestine.  Julian decides to become or try and understand what it is to be Jewish by reading and studying the faith and meeting and living with members of Libor's family.  Of course, what Julian does not seem to realise or understand is that being Jewish is not just a faith or way of life but is having lived through or understood the history and persecution.  Upbringing and being steeped into the way of life.  3*
ISBN 978-1-4088-0993-8

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